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Study of Chinese language gaining ground in US

By LIU YINMENG | China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-13 10:47
Edgar Moreno Pena (front), a space industrial engineer from Venezuela, attends a course with fellow students at the Shenzhou Institute in Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

It was Leah Markworth's parents who decided she would attend a bilingual public school program. She ended up enrolling in an Mandarin immersion program in San Diego, California, where she started learning Chinese in first grade.

As Leah, now 15, delved deeper into the language, her entire family developed a keen interest in Chinese culture while she is thinking of a career in international relations.

"I don't even know who I would be right now without Chinese. I've gotten so many opportunities to perform and to travel, and to talk to so many new people," the ninth grader from Mission Bay High School told China Daily after her performance in Beijing Opera during the 12th annual National Chinese Language Conference, which took place from May 9 to May 11.

The largest annual gathering in the US of Chinese language practitioners is organized by the College Board and Asia Society in collaboration with Confucius Institute Headquarters. It saw the attendance this year of more than 1,300 participants from 44 states and Washington DC, as well as seven other countries.

A good understanding of the Chinese language helps US students become competitive in schools and career in an increasingly interdependent global society, the organizers and participants at the conference said.

The 2017 National K-12 Foreign Language Enrollment Survey, published by American Councils for International Education, indicated that there were 227,086 Chinese learners across the formal US education system, making it the third most popular language being studied.

Chinese trailed far behind Spanish, which saw the enrollment of 7.36 million students, and French, which attracted 1.29 million students.

"The global education makes us better understand the importance of Chinese language education. It reveals the pursuit of the equality and justice, tolerance and innovation, diversity and mutual respect," said Ma Jianfei, deputy chief executive of Confucius Institute Headquarters and vice chairman and secretary-general of the international society for Chinese Language Teaching, during his opening remarks on Friday.

Expanding on Ma's comments, Anthony Jackson, vice-president of education at Asia Society, said that exposing oneself to the differences between cultures at an early age helps prepare children to become successful global citizens in a multicultural society.

John D'Andrea, world languages specialist and a former Chinese teacher from Tucson Unified School District in Arizona, said: "I think American students are interested in China. They just need encouragement to understand the language and understand the culture of the people," he said.

According to China's Ministry of Education, 489,200 international students chose to study in China in 2017, an increase of over 10 percent from 2016.

D'Andrea, who majored in Chinese in the 1970s after being influenced by US President Nixon's opening of US-China relations, said, "We need to be constantly connecting with China, period. You've got one-fifth of the world's population, for crying out loud. We need to pay attention, and we can learn from each other," D'Andrea added.

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